There is a sea change happening around the country in the way historical locations represent their respective past, specifically as it relates to the so-called “peculiar institution” of slavery.
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello recently incorporated the story of Sally Hemings into its programing with the opening of Hemings' former living quarters, and other famous historical locations around the country are finally beginning to address this complicated issue head on. This includes significant historical locations here in Savannah, like Telfair Museums' Owens-Thomas House and Historic Savannah Foundation's Davenport House, among others.
The Davenport House represents more or less the beginning point of the city's historic preservation movement with its renovation in the late 1950s. The upcoming Davenport House Harvest Lecture Series is an adjunct to HSF's overall effort to include the full story of the location and its inhabitants and is a welcome addition to the historical record of Savannah.
“It is our job to tell the story of the Davenport House in the 1820s (because that is the period we have the most documentation),” explains museum director Jamie Credle. “If you are going to do that, we have to tell the story of everyone who lived there as well as the community and the nation where it existed. The DH's mission is early 19th century history and to celebrate the house's role in the preservation movement. By having thoughtful speakers, we are fulfilling that charge.”
This year's Harvest Lecture Series will feature two separate programs by professional living history interpreter and historical site tour program writer Cheyney McKnight.
On Nov. 12 at Second African Baptist Church, McKnight will present “In Their Steps: Interpreting Slavery,” in which she will discuss telling the story of slavery from the point of view of those who were enslaved. On Nov. 13 at Savannah State University, McKnight will present “African American Adornment in 19th Century America,” where she will talk about how African women in 18th and 19th century America used "headwraps, waist beads, necklaces, rings and charms to hold onto their West African culture.” Both events are free and open to the public.
“We have been doing a lecture or lectures in the fall since 2011,” says Credle. “The DH offers the series to the community as a way to get a deeper understanding our story (early 19th century life in the port city; daily life; social history) ... The series is the DH's gift to the community — with a focus on our docents, the museum community and Savannah tour guides. The DH funds it. Though this year, for Cheyney McKnight's visit, we are presenting it with our colleagues at Andrew Low House [who] are co-sponsors.
"Both museums think Ms. McKnight's story and topic are important to share. In addition, we have two host sites for her visit — Second African Baptist Church and the Africana Studies Program at Savannah State University. We hope to enrich our storytelling through scholarship and practitioners of well-researched (and presented) history.”